Take Away That Bauble 1/7: The Display of War Ordnance in Walsall 1850 – 1940.


In the August of 2018, having left Walsall Archives, I decided to undertake another degree – a full-time MRes, Master of Research (History) – at Keele University. The idea was to prepare myself for a PhD, as I never really expected to get back into archives; however, as it was, I did return – first, part-time at Birmingham University and then full-time at Dudley. Considering this, as well as being in a lot of discomfort from another medical issue, I was pleased to achieve a distinction.

I have placed on Wyrleyblog a couple of the assignments that I had to do for the degree: one on the nature of history (not the most exciting post on the blog), the other on the concept of war trophies – as this formed the basis of the dissertation I was to write. I am now going to serialise that dissertation in seven parts, as it over 30,000 words long. In order to make it readable, I have removed the contents and illustration pages, as they are no longer relevant page-wise, and some of the illustrations used; further, the footnotes have been cut down to a basic level – but these follow on from each section so you may not have got to the end of the article when you find the footnotes! A full bibliography can be found at the end of the dissertation.


The first person I have to thank for help both with this dissertation and the Master of Research (History) course itself is Andrew Sargent, my supervisor: he is a happy chap, and needed to be – as being my supervisor was complicated with issues beyond the academic. Then, as my dissertation is centred on Walsall, I really want to thank my former colleagues at the Walsall Local History Centre for facilitating my research. Most of all I want to thank my family, who have been fully supportive of my returning to education and to archive work.

This dissertation is dedicated to my brilliant wife Donna, who sat with me through the darkest of winter nights, and is in remembrance of my father, my uncle Ken (who died as I was researching this), and to Private James Wood of the 46th Foot – for showing that in the hardest of times we still think of home.


I am an archivist by profession, a local historian through interest. William Hoskins believed local history more encompassing than history per se and that it provided ‘personal and individual meaning’,[1] Kate Tiller that it is about ‘people and place… about the origin and growth of community, about how, why and when local communities changed’.[2] I agree, and this dissertation will examine Walsall in its response to the military, war and the exhibiting of war through social, cultural and comparative history.

After the Second World War a generation of historians began studying the lives of the proletariat, calling it history from below.[3] This approach has a caveat: if you only study people from below then you get as unequal a slant as if you only studied the elite, so this dissertation will seek to encompass as wide a social view as possible from within Walsall.

Cultural history is nothing new,[4] it emerged in the 1960s and ‘in this context…is taken to indicate patterns of thought and understanding, modes of language, rituals of life, and ways of thinking’.[5] This dissertation will seek the cultural view, and any changes within that view, over the public feeling towards the military and the display of war ephemera between the Crimean and Great Wars.

Finally, historians seek wider validation of their interpretations through comparisons to ‘discover generalisations’,[6] so the dissertation will compare the experience of Walsall with other local towns that displayed ordnance (although no two places or sets of circumstances are truly the same).

The subject of this dissertation is the display of war ordnance as intended permanent features in public places, such as parks and town squares; it is not about museums, private exhibition or war memorials, but needs to contextually examine them. Walsall displayed and then destroyed its Crimean and Great War ordnance and the purpose of the piece is to understand why attitudes changed. The subject was chosen out of interest, I carried no personal prejudice one way or another.

The work is comprised of two parts. The first part starts with a social and political background to Walsall, before looking at the public view of the military in the lead-up to the Crimean War. The aim, although far from conclusive, is to understand if these factors could have influenced perceptions of the ordnance and its display. After the Crimean War, Walsall approached the War Office for two cannon obtained from Sevastopol.[7] The guns were displayed as part of a town square feature and yet, after around twenty years, the Council destroyed the feature without public consultation. Set against the public perception of the war, the social and political climate while they stood, the first part then investigates why the cannon were obtained, displayed, what they actually represented, and their destruction.

As shown by a British tank’s visit for a fund-raising scheme, military ordnance during the Great War held public fascination and Walsall sought war-memorabilia before the war ended. Perhaps, understandably then, from 1919 the Council displayed a tank in Reedswood Park. Local feelings over public display, howeve, changed after the war: plans for a local war museum were abandoned and six guns lay in storage. Dogged by controversy, vandalism, yet not without protectors, they were all eventually destroyed. The second part, incorporating the work of Jennifer Wellington and Adrian Gregory, investigates Walsall’s display of war during the Great War, through collecting, war art and cinematography, the tank visit and the intention to form a war museum; then, how public consciousness changed after the conflict, increasingly diverging from a Council exhibiting a tank while abandoning a museum for lack of support.

There is a conclusion for each section. There is then an overall conclusion that compares the town’s experiences of the Crimean and Great Wars and places Walsall within cultural war debates: these are Adrian Gregory’s belief in the exclusion of veterans from commemoration, and Jay Winter and Paul Fussell on whether the scale of losses in the Great War ushered in new concepts of collective grief or whether it was built on earlier traditions.

[1] Hoskins, W. 1959. Local History in England. p3.

[2] Tiller, K. 1992. English Local History: An Introduction. p1.

[3] Green, A. & Troup, K. 1999. The Houses of History. p33.

[4] The Reverend Hindsley spoke in 1920 on the unwritten history of ‘feeling, desire and purpose which pass over every human heart and mind’. Walsall Observer. 13 Mar 1920. Unwitten History. p9.

[5] Arnold, J. 2000. History: A Very Short Introduction. p87.

[6] Carr, E. 2001. What Is History? pp 56-60

[7] Sebastopol is the anglicised: Sevastopol is used unless it is within a quote.

The Crimean War

The Walsall Economic Blackguard

The parish of Walsall takes in Walsall and Greater Bloxwich. The central Walsall area, not even all of the town, was called the Borough, while the rest of the parish was known as the Foreign.[1] In 1801, Walsall’s population of around ten thousand was roughly split between the two,[2] although their natures were different as the Borough was more densely peopled and supported diverse industrial premises while the Foreign was rural with a mixed economy of agriculture and heavy industry.[3]

Robert Dawson’s map of the boundaries of Walsall’s Borough and Foreign, 1832. Scale two inches to a mile. Acc1239/2/3/3: Walsall Local History Centre

Under the 1832 Great Reform Act, Walsall received parliamentary representation for the first time. The first elected was the Conservative candidate Charles Smith Forster who served until 1837, however, Walsall would return Liberal candidates to parliament from 1837 until 1892.[4] For much of that time (1852–1891), that candidate was Forster’s son (also Charles). This indicates that, parliamentary at least, Walsall was a Liberal town.

Forster must have properly represented his constituents to be re-elected, and a number of elections were uncontested.[5] He was progressive and in harmony with at least some elements of the Town Council for in 1866, with parliament split on the issue of electoral reform, a Reform League branch was founded in Walsall under the presidency of Edward Holden and Forster offered Holden support.[6] Holden spent his life as a Walsall Liberal.[7]

Local government was carried out through the Manor (earls of Bradford, from 1815), the overseers of the poor (replaced by the Walsall Poor Union in 1836),[8] and Walsall Corporation (reconstituted under the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835). The new corporation subsumed the old (taking over many manorial rights, such as markets) and was effectively the only decision-making body.[9]

Walsall had a tradition of radicalism, though it would not be until 1888 that the first socialist served on the council,[10] as a Walsall Political Union had been formed seeking electoral reform in 1830.[11] Walsall’s first parliamentary election in 1832 met with rioting (the electorate was 597, only 535 actually voted),[12] although the election coincided with a cholera epidemic and a trade depression likely fuelling discontent.[13] In the wake of Birmingham’s Bull Ring riots a Chartist ‘branch’ was set up in Walsall which, although unsuccessful in its aims, added pressure for further reform.[14] This reform would come in 1867, the mid-point of the cannon being displayed in the town square. While still requiring a property qualification, the vote was extended to working-class male householders but parliamentary and local representation remained Liberal.

The population increased significantly after the 1820s:[15] by 1851 it had risen to 26,822 and a decade later to 39,690, with most residing in the old Foreign.[16] The population had doubled again by 1901. Philip Liddle, in his 1988 thesis on Victorian Walsall, puts the rise down to predominantly natural growth in periods of economic prosperity;[17] however, he also acknowledges that some boundary changes and immigration, as a result of Walsall becoming increasingly and diversely industrialised, played a part.[18]

Until the population spiralled in the 1840s, the ‘standard of housing was claimed to be superior to that of many industrial towns’.[19] Affluent properties were built, like Bridgeman Terrace, along with many ‘worker’s cottages’ and industrial premises as a part of the expansion programmes of landlords. [20] Gas lighting arrived in the 1820s,[21] and central Walsall had sewers by the 1850s.[22] There were areas of deprivation: under the Artisan’s Dwelling Act 1875, swathes of properties were torn down as unfit for habitation, [23] peopled as they were, ‘by the lowest and most depraved of the community’.[24] Despite this, and although the town had suffered economically for several years, it was considered by the Board of Trade as the ‘most prosperous town’ in the Midlands due to its diverse trades.[25]

Walsall in 1876. The Crimean cannon feature on The Bridge is visible. Currie et al. 2002. p148

The illustration shows how the town centre of Walsall had grown by 1876, with the arrival of the railway in 1849.[26] Walsall racecourse closed in 1876,[27] but generally Walsall’s facilities grew with the population. A much needed civic cemetery opened in 1859, as church graveyards filled.[28] The Arboretum (former flooded limestone mines) opened as a private park, before being taken over by the Council in 1881.[29] Walsall in late 1856 was large enough to attract its own newspapers: several transient publications came and went, but those with some longevity, The Walsall Free Press, Walsall Advertiser and Walsall Observer, were liberal in their political outlook.[30]

Homeshaw, E. 1960. The Corporation of Walsall. p117.

[2] Currie, Greenslade & Johnson. 2002. A History of Walsall: VCH Vol 12. p145

[3] ibid. pp 180-208.

[4] Other than a few months in 1841. The Party was created in 1859.

[5] Willmore, F. 1887. A History of Walsall and its Neighbourhood. pp 418-420.

[6] Birmingham Daily Post. 30 Aug 1867. Walsall Reform League. p1.

[7] Yorkshire Post and Intelligencer. 15 Nov 1926. Obituary: Ed Holden. p11

[8] Currie, C et al. 2002. p212.

[9] Homeshaw, E. 1960. pp 148-149. A second body, the Improvement Commissioners, was created in 1848 to look at issues like sanitation, but consisted of the same councillors and their functions would be fully absorbed into the Town Council by 1876.

[10] Currie, C et al. 2002. p217.

[11] Willmore, F. 1887. pp 421-422

[12] ibid. p415.

[13] ibid. p405. Formed on same lines as the Birmingham Political Union, 1829.

[14] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/houseofcommons/reformacts/overview/furtherreformacts/

[15] Liddle, P. 1988. Victorian Walsall: An Economic and Social Study. p44.

[16] Currie, C et al. 2002. p145.

[17] Liddle, P. 1988. p45.

[18] The 1851-1861 increase was helped by the extension of coalmining, limestone and iron-working in Leamore, and the Pleck, and leather and other trades in Walsall and Bloxwich. See Currie, C et al. 2002. pp 180-208.

[19] Currie, C et al. 2002. p220

[20] ibid. p149:

[21] Willmore, F. 1887. p195

[22] Currie, C et al. 2002. p221

[23] Most of Town End, for example.

[24] Currie, C et al. 2002. p220.

[25] Liddle, P. 1998. p118.

[26] Currie, C et al. 2002. p168.

[27] ibid. p250.

[28] ibid. p158.

[29] ibid. p152.

[30] Ibid. pp 252-253.

The Brave Blackguard

Military historian Richard Holmes describes the public attitude towards the army as ‘ambivalent’,[1] suggesting a range of views from love to hate. The question why feelings were so mixed is a complicated one: historical unease, a social and economically polarised society, an army that mirrored this society in its composition and the uses to which the army was put to. The evidence presented here is inconclusive as to an encompassing dominant view of the army, suggesting Holmes’ view was a valid one.

The establishment view of the soldier is perhaps more consistent than those of the working-class as they are represented more, but all classes had, as Holmes says, viewed the standing army with suspicion since it was formed by King Charles II.[2] This mistrust was born from the oppression experienced during the civil wars (indeed, clubmen movements fought-off both sides)[3] and the later inability of Oliver Cromwell to govern without the Major-Generals.[4] John Miller also adds that there was disgruntlement over taxation to pay for it and anxiety over its use to enforce the state.[5] The army was feared, as it appeared uncontrollable.

Both the regular army and militia prior to the Crimean campaign were a reflection of male society. The regular army was open to all volunteers, and was a well-trained force on permanent duty (home and service abroad). Second, also open to all, was a part-time militia that was lightly trained (twenty-eight days per year),[6] that had started to fall out of use after the Napoleonic Wars,[7] although local units drilled during the Crimean War. The officers used both as a means of social advancement in purchasing and swapping their commissions. The rank and file were comprised of an eclectic mix from a social class that was very diverse, covering the artisan and labourer down to public house drunks and felons who were offered service to escape sentence.[8]

The establishment had faith to deploy the regular army to protect the national interest despite the Duke of Wellington famously describing his soldiers as ‘scum’;[9] and while he may have believed that gin lay at the heart of their patriotism, he also said that when other generals ‘make mistakes their armies are beaten; when I get into a hole, my men pull me out of it’.[10] Equally, he sought to be protected from ‘gallant officers’,[11] a sentiment echoed by Tennyson, who calls the rank and file the ‘noble six hundred’ in his Charge of the Light Brigade, while firmly pointing out the ‘blunder’ of his own class.[12] The establishment was not beyond self-criticism and recognizing qualities in those outside it.

One of the few instances of a regular soldier recording his life experiences was Timothy Gowing, who served in the Crimea working his way from a private to a sergeant. He wrote that prior to the Crimea: ‘we were looked upon as being useless and expensive ornaments. But suddenly a change came over the people, and every sight of the Queen’s uniform called forth emotions of enthusiasm from all conditions of men’.[13] This suggests a difference in the public perception of the soldier depending on if the country was at war.

Government control of the proletariat manifested itself in two ways during the early nineteenth century. The first was legislation.[14] The second was to enforce civil order, up until around the Crimean War, with a fledgling police force, temporarily deputised constables and the military. Local magistrates could argue, with some justification, as the police force was unfit for the task they had no alternative to calling in the military and the Midlands saw a fair share of unrest as rising political joined existing social tensions.

There was a third force, the Volunteers, who were often associated with civil unrest.[15] They were often mounted sections, usually given the epithet of Yeomanry as they comprised of middle-class or aspiring middle-class gentlemen, and could have a vested interest in maintaining order as the property they protected from violence could be their own.[16] Enforcement was not just crowd control – people died – the most famous incident being the eighteen killed at Peterloo (1819).[17] They were created and disbanded according to need: in 1798 a Walsall Volunteer Association was formed but was disbanded in 1802 due to the removal of the threat of a French invasion after the signing of the Treaty of Amiens.[18] There is a question as to why it was formed when Walsall already contributed a troop to the Queen’s Own Royal Yeomanry, but it highlights the amateurish, gentleman-led approach within the volunteer military.

It is not difficult to appreciate the establishment view of deploying the military on home soil as the press were hostile to the violence that accompanied civil unrest. The Nottingham Journal carried a story on 10 December 1831 (from the Birmingham Gazette) that was an establishment narrative on a collier’s dispute in the midlands, in which any sympathy was cloaked under a diatribe on the alleged accompanying violence and the civil response. Public opinion was suppressed: no collier contributed to the article, the tone of which is summed-up by its anger over the defiance of authority: ‘Want of employment at satisfactory wages is stated to be the cause of this insubordination’.[19]

Requests for military help were not necessarily made by desperate civic officials floundering under public dissent: the High Constable of Birmingham called on the 73rd Foot to help with a ‘riot’;[20] the Constable read the Riot Act then had to restrain the officer-in-charge, who had threatened to withdraw his men if they were not allowed the freedom to fire, by reminding him that if they fired without his order they would be guilty of murder.[21] The military must have be viewed by some as a state instrument, like the accusation made against the police during the 1984 Miner’s Strike.[22]

Prior to the 1850s the proletariat had no mainstream outlet to record their views of military use during civil unrest: the few radical newspapers, like the Manchester Observer, were short-lived and usually subject to state prosecution.[23] There were small printing presses producing leaflets but one method of defiance, not requiring high-levels of literacy, would have been the folk-song.[24] While ballads were composed over events like Peterloo,[25] it is notable that John Freeth (1731-1808), Birmingham reformer, publican and ballad-maker, who wrote on the abolition of the slavery, oppressive laws and social conditions, never wrote about the confrontation between the working-man and the military. He admits in The Collier’s March that ‘the black gentry’ of Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton, ‘stepped out with bludgeons determined to stir up a rout’,[26] but omits mention of the military or constables. Where his ballads focus on the military, his compositions are proud of Birmingham’s record in army recruitment.[27]

The actions of the military were endorsed by the establishment in public.[28] Whether the military was seen as heavy-handed is actually difficult to answer in the main, due to a lack of official evidence from the proletariat points of view: for example, the inquest on the Peterloo victim John Lees was adjourned and never resumed, silencing those attacked.[29] It is easy to assume that the proletariat sided with each other during civil unrest, however, John Freeth’s ballad entitled The Dudley Riot, suggests that Birmingham had little sympathy with the Dudley rioters – indeed, the ‘Birmingham Youth were arming’ to protect the town and one volley from the Volunteers would send them ‘scurrying to their caverns’.[30]

Walsall’s civil unrest would be faced by the Queen’s Own Royal Yeomanry, which had been founded in 1794. Glew wrote in 1856 that the men of the Walsall troop were required to ‘provide his own horse; arms and accoutrements being supplied by the government’,[31] and the frequency of social balls advertised in the Staffordshire Advertiser is perhaps indicative of how the Yeomanry saw itself. Training amounted to ‘six drill days during the year, and the entire corps assembled annually at Lichfield, for one week’.[32] Whatever was undertaken above this, it is perhaps alarming that this level of training was considered satisfactory to aid civil powers during riots.

Willmore chronicled some of the instances in which the Walsall troop were called out, starting with ‘ten days’ duty’ at Lichfield in 1798.[33] In September 1800 the troop helped quell county-wide trouble over food prices. In 1816 the troop were unable to assist during a Walsall disturbance as they had no uniforms and so the regular soldiers were called in.[34] They were called out in 1824 and 1826 for unstated reasons and in 1831 (the Bilston riot already mentioned), 1832 (the Walsall election riot) and throughout 1842 (the colliery riots) the troop provided support to the regulars during these major incidents. It is a moot point as to whether the level of activity Willmore listed was enough to linger in cultural memory.

It is easy to gauge how the Walsall establishment viewed the Yeomanry: on 23 December 1831, after the Bilston incident, Walsall Council wrote offering thanks for ‘prompt and efficient services rendered by them’.[35] Saying that, George Attwood attempted to get the 1832 election result overturned due to the ‘unconstitutional interference of the military’.[36]

It is difficult to ascertain the views of the Walsall proletariat, accounts do not survive. Taking the case of the 1832 election riots, it must have been terrifying for the average brush-maker witnessing ten-thousand members of the Birmingham Political Union descending on Walsall, doing battle at the hustings with Tory-paid counterparts.[37] The 33rd Regiment charged with fixed bayonets and rumours spread to Birmingham of ‘awful slaughter’.[38] The soldiers returned on election-day, as well as the mounted Scots Greys, and it seems incredible that no casualties were reported considering one dragoon removed a chunk of wall with his sabre ‘while missing his man’.[39]

Concluding, Walsall between 1800 and 1880 saw a period of significant population increase, driven by its diverse industrial economy and town development. While there was deprivation and periods of decline, the town prospered. Politically, Walsall came of age in the 1830s with its first parliamentary representation and a new town council. By the 1850s its parliamentarian was a progressive Liberal, the Council weighted towards the Liberal Party and there was a Liberal press. Walsall was no Liberal utopia: radical agitators spoke at Walsall meetings and,[40] irrespective of its progressive representation, social riots over working, living or political conditions flared irregularly as in other places. Whether the cannon would later be seen as an affront by radicals or working-class is difficult to say – but it must have been in accord with Liberal values at the time (Liberal governments would lead the country through the war).

The establishment saw the army for personal advancement and an instrument to protect their status and police mass political and social protest. The elite could be self-critical, and while bonds did form between officers and men within the army,[41] in general their ambivalence was along class lines. The view of the proletariat is more problematical. The gritty composition of the army meant places like Walsall were fertile recruiting grounds, yet such places were riddled with prejudices of their own as some would despise the army as it had a large Irish contingent, for example.[42] The army gave work, but did not protect the status of such people, indeed, when deployed during civil unrest it sought to suppress it – yet, at the same time, it could equally be seen as protecting some of the proletariat during riots. The army was a microcosm of society: a small establishment elite ruling superior numbers by virtue of class and severe discipline,[43] and was more popular when fighting abroad than at home. Holmes’ belief that the army was viewed ambivalently is perhaps a fair assessment, with each person viewing the military depending their own personal experience. Prior to their acquisition, there is no evidence that in Walsall the cannon were prejudiced by views of the army.

[1] Holmes, R. 2001. Redcoat. p15.

[2] ibid

[3] Coward, B. 1980. The Stuart Age. pp 187-189.

[4] Holmes, R. 2011. Soldiers. p4.

[5] Miller, J. 1991. Charles II. p39 and p177.

[6] Holmes, R. 2011. p95.

[7] ibid. p97.

[8] Ibid. pp 149-153.

[9] Holmes, R. 2001. p148.

[10] MOD: http://www.armedforces.co.uk/mod/listings/l0019.html

[11] https://www.waterlooassociation.org.uk/2018/05/21/duke-of-wellington/

[12] Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade. 1854.

[13] See: Richards, D. 2006. Conflict in the Crimea. p9.

[14] Such as the Riot Act (1715, later amended), Seditious Meetings Act and the Treason Act (both 1795, although amended later), which closed down even the right to gather.

[15] Willmore, F.1887. pp 382-383.

[16] Holmes, R. 2011. p101.

[17] The Manchester and Salford Yeomanry and the regulars. See: http://www.peterloomassacre.org/index.html for listing and circumstances of those involved (including the Yeomanry)

[18] Glew, E. 1856. The History of the Borough and Foreign of Walsall. p13.

[19] Nottingham Journal. 10 December 1831. Turn out of the Colliers. p4.

[20] Richard Holmes places the event in 1817. Holmes, R. 2001. p75.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Richmond, T. 13 May 2016. The Yorkshire Post 

[23] The Manchester Observer was shut down in 1822

[24] Freeth, J. 1790. Political Songster. pXI.

[25] The Bodleian Library has several ballads on Peterloo: Available at http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/search/theme/Peterloo%20Massacre%2C%201819/?query=&f_Themes=Peterloo%20Massacre%2C%201819

[26] Freeth, J. 1790. p60. Black gentry refers to miners. The ballad was recorded by Chumbawamba (1988) for their album English Rebel Songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpxozHjmUSw

[27] Freeth, J. 1790. Birmingham Recruits, p38, and Captain Carver’s Militia, p49, for example

[28] Peterloo took place in August 1819, and up to eighteen people died directly and indirectly as a result of military action in trying to disperse a crowd. Hundreds were injured.

[29] Glasgow, G. 2017. The John Lees Inquest of 1819 and the Peterloo Massacre. Available at https://www.hslc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/148-5-Glasgow.pdf

[30] Freeth, J. 1790. p58.

[31] Glew, F. 1856. p14. The provision of a horse was a property qualification, so unless sponsored or forced (a tenant farmer could be under obligation to his landlord), it could exclude many from serving.

[32] ibid.

[33] Willmore, F. 1887. pp 383-385.

[34] The Yeomanry had suffered in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, the uniform question could be a comment on the possible disbanding of the Walsall troop, or a lack of financing.

[35] ibid.

[36] ibid. p415.

[37] The Conservative party was officially founded in 1834.

[38] Willmore, F. 1887. p413.

[39] Ibid. p414.

[40] Willmore, F. 1887. p432: Willmore names an agitator called Murphy, who spoke several times in Walsall in 1867, causing enough excitement (for and against) to have special security precautions laid on.

[41] The bond between Private Wood and Lieutenant Hammond is mentioned later.

[42] Currie, C et al. 2002. p145.’the Irish have been the traditional scapegoats on whom Walsall projects its fears and frustrations’.

[43] The Crimean War would spell the end of draconian flogging as a punishment